This op-ed by Daniel Ulloa, President of AWA, originally appeared in NJ Spotlight.com.
As living costs continue to rise in this expensive state, people are working longer hours for less money just to get by
We need a $15 an hour minimum wage. Too many people are struggling to make ends meet in New Jersey.
Between the costs of housing, child care, transportation, and healthcare more and more people are working longer hours for less money just to get by, much less thrive. And despite the state’s low unemployment, the fact that wages have remained stagnant makes poverty a pressing issue here.
New Jersey is one of the most expensive states in the country to live in. It was recently ranked among the top 10 most unequal state in the nation. Those who are wealthy can enjoy its benefits far more than struggling workers. And while some of those who are currently struggling can go on to achieve prosperity, they unfortunately are more often the exception to the rule. There is no reason thousands should be made to toil for slave wages simply because it’s possible to find a better job.
Raising the minimum wage is always a popular action. In 2013, when Gov. Chris Christie was re-elected, a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage slightly was approved as well, thus showing such a move has bipartisan support.
Some conservatives object because they feel it would be an onerous burden on companies to pay individuals so much money. But if their customers are also making more money, they’re likely to shop more.
$15 minimum would benefit 1.2M workers in NJ
Furthermore, higher wages mean employees won’t be as likely to leave blue-collar jobs — which in turn means businesses won’t have to spend as much time training new staff. In addition, a more satisfied staff is likely to lead to an increase in productivity.
For those who feel that blue-collar workers shouldn’t make the same money as white-collar workers, remember a rising tide lifts all boats.
According to New Jersey Policy Perspective, raising the minimum wage to $15 would raise wages for 1.2 million workers in the state and inject $4.5 billion into the state’s economy.
There has been some talk of watering down the minimum-wage bill to pay youth workers less than $15 an hour. Most are seen as teenagers from middle-classes families who take the jobs merely for spending money. But youth workers need that money. Contrary to the beliefs of some, they have no desire to be a burden but rather would like to contribute and ease their family expenses. This is especially true in the homes of Hispanic families where their paychecks often go in part to sustaining the family. Youth workers must not be treated as second-class citizens.
Discrimination against older workers
Such an exemption from a $15 minimum would also likely lead to massive discrimination against older workers by employers seeking to bypass the law.
There has also been talk of excluding farmworkers. Farmworkers who perform the most arduous duties also must receive a higher wage. Why should they be left out? Many work long hours for little pay in jobs that few would willingly do. Leaving out a class of workers made up overwhelmingly by people of color is an act of blatant racism.
How are we to call ourselves the Garden State if we do not fairly compensate those who make it so?
There has been a great delay now in anticipation of the bill while living expenses continue to increase due to natural inflation. Delaying an increase for too long would erode the effect of raising the minimum wage.
In 2016, a bill to put $15 on the ballot as a referendum passed both legislative chambers easily but was vetoed by Christie and, unfortunately, the political will wasn’t there to override his veto.
Gov. Phil Murphy ran on raising the minimum wage to $15 and made it one of the central planks of his campaign. However, we have been waiting half a year for the bill to be passed. Working men and women cannot afford to wait. They have been waiting long enough while they are exploited, and deals are made to benefit those who don’t need extra protection.
The Legislature must send a bill raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour to the governor now.